When I prepare anyone for a deposition, the first thing I tell them is they need to remember to breathe. This may sound silly, but after presenting over 500 people for their deposition (and having my deposition taken), being reminded to breathe is very important. When we are faced with a threatening situation, we tense up, kick in the "fight or flight" mechanism and may find it very difficult to concentrate on what is really causing the threat. Here, the threat is the situation - there is another lawyer asking you questions, in front of a court reporter taking down your testimony and you have been placed under oath to tell the truth. And there are the emotions involved in the litigation. When all of this comes together, you have a situation that many people want to run from. In times like this, just remember to breathe. Take deep breathes until you are relaxed and you can regain your concentration and focus.
Listen to the question.
The deposition is really a conversation between you, the witness, and the lawyer(s) asking questions. Listen to their question. I mean really listen to their question. What is the lawyer asking? Let the lawyer finish before you even think about answering the question. The type of listening you should do is called "active listening". Be in the now with the question being asked. Don't try to think steps ahead and do not try to anticipate the question. When you try to anticipate the question, you may be wrong about the question the lawyer is really trying to ask you and you may provide the other lawyer with a new line of questions she or he had not thought of before the deposition. A tool that works well is to listen to the question, then pause briefly before you answer to make sure in your mind you understand the question.
Answer only the question asked
We all want to and try to be helpful. It is only natural, even in a deposition, to try to help the other lawyer asking you questions. Your job, and it is a job, in a deposition is to answer the question asked of you. If the answer to the question requires an explanation, then give the explanation as part of your answer. We all know that some answers are not as simple as "yes", "no", or "I don't know." When you are presented with a question and your answer may begin "yes, but..." or "no, but...", start with your explanation. But remember, keep your answers, even with an exploitation, short and focused on the question asked.
If you don't understand the question, say so
Even the best lawyers may ask questions in a deposition that don't make any sense. I have done than more times than I want to remember. Sometimes the lawyer is trying to trick you, but more often than not, the lawyer just asked a bad question. If you are asked a question that you do not understand, you have the right to have the lawyer asking the question to clarify their question. Simply tell the lawyer that you do not understand the question and ask them to make it simpler. Examples of questions you may not understand are questions that are really more than one question in the question asked, or the lawyer asks a question with factual assumptions in it and those "facts' just did not happen. If that happens, ask for clarification. If, after asking for clarification, you still do not understand the question, you are not obligated to answer a question you do not understand. The only obligation you have is to tell the truth.
Its OK to say "I don't know" or "I don't remember"
I have been in depositions of people from all walks of life - from the big company CEO to the pizza delivery girl. Everyone I have ever met does not like to say they do not know or they do not remember. If you really do not know or you really do not remember, say so. If the lawyer asks you if there may be something that "refreshes your recollection", then let them know. So long as you are telling the truth, saying "I don't know " or "I don't remember" is ok. Now, for you CEO-types. Executives, from big companies to small companies, think they have to know everything about everything. As lawyers, we know that. We also know that it is impossible for any person to know everything. You can avoid unnecessary stress in a deposition by not thinking you have know everything and remember "I don't know" and "I don't remember", so long as that is the truth, are good answers.